Sunday, June 17, 2007

Biofuels starve the poor?

A friend of mine sent me an interesting article from Foreign Affairs, asking if biofuels might starve the world's poor, by diverting corn used for eating to corn used to drive your car. I think it is a tremendously interesting argument, but it has been constructed in such a way to be a little sensational. As you read the article--which is somewhat lengthy but worth the time--you find that it is the government subsidies and industrial favoritism of corn that might starve the world's poor, and not specifically biofuels. I was pleased to read in the final sections that the authors recognize the potential benefits of cellulosic (from trees or grasses) ethanol over corn or soybean derived ethanol. I am reminded of the excellent research that I mentioned in an earlier blog post on native grasslands producing a better biofuel. Native grasses can be planted on agriculturally degraded lands, so they aren't displacing crops, and they are carbon-negative, meaning that growing native grasses, converting them to biofuels and burning them actually puts more carbon in the ground (in the growing phase) than in the air (in the burning phase). Using soy and corn to create biofuels is better than fossil fuels, of course, but they are still carbon-positive. It's a great article if you have the time.